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Kenya is paying a high price for its major contribution to the fight to rid neighbouring Somalia of al-Shabaab, says Peter Fabricius.
Pretoria - Kenya paid a high price this weekend for its major contribution to the fight to rid neighbouring Somalia of the highly de-stabilising influence of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group which is trying to destroy the Somali government.
By late Sunday afternoon 59 people had died and 175 had been injured in the terror attack on Nairobi’s smartest shopping mall, Westgate. [Please go to www.iol.co.za for the latest report]
Somalia’s al-Shabaab was almost certainly guilty.
This was likely al-Shabaab’s revenge for Kenya’s decisive military intervention in Somalia from the middle of last year.
The Kenyan government said it had no choice but to intervene as al-Shabaab terror attacks on its northern beach resorts were scaring off economically-vital tourists.
At the cost of many soldiers’ lives, Kenyan troops, in alliance with Somali clan leader Ahmed Madobe and his Ras Kamboni Brigade, drove al-Shabaab out of the important port city of Kismayo and large parts of the surrounding mid-Juba region in October last year.
Significantly, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, addressing a press conference on Sunday, appealed to foreign governments not to issue travel advisories to their citizens against visiting Kenya because of the Westgate attack.
That, he did not add, would have defeated the purpose of Kenya’s original intervention in Somalia last year. But the foreign governments will no doubt issue those advisories anyway, since their first responsibility is to their own citizens.
And many potential tourists will have been scared off by the very extensive media coverage given to the attack.
So al-Shabaab has won an important battle against Kenya.
But whether it wins the war is a much larger and still open question.
Kenyatta underlined in his address that al-Shabaab was not fighting just Kenya, but the world. Since it is allied to al-Qaeda, which is a global terrorist organisation, that was not pure rhetoric.
However, al-Shabaab will first have to be defeated in Somalia if the wider war is to be won. Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopians troops are bearing the brunt of the heavy fighting, alongside Somali government troops which are very slowly gaining in competence.
But as they gain ground against al-Shabaab militarily, the organisation has stepped up its terror attacks.
The solution to Somalia’s 22 years of instability and its reign as the world’s most failed state, will eventually have to be political.
The country remains riven by the clan warlordism which has always been its greatest curse.
And Kenya’s military intervention, though dealing a decisive blow to al-Shabaab, threatened to aggravate Somalia’s powerful centrifugal forces in other ways.
After Kenyan troops helped him to capture Kismayo and most of mid-Juba, Ahmed Madobe declared himself “President of the Jubaland State of Somalia”.
Somali President President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud fiercely opposed this unilateral declaration of near-independence.
After intense negotiations, Mohamud and Madobe settled their differences in the Jubaland agreement, which enshrines the central government’s authority in creating federal units but in practice gives Madobe and his Jubaland considerable autonomy.
The deal perfectly illustrated the point that in Somalia, governing, and particularly federalising, is a lot like training cats. The key to looking like you’re in charge is to anticipate what they’re going to do anyway, and then instruct them to do it.
* Peter Fabricius is the foreign editor of Independent Newspapers.